Truth be told I had been meaning to read Karen Haid’s Calabria: The Other Italy since over 3 years. (Yes, 3!) Call it procrastination or simply waiting for the right moment, but I finally started it in the crazy year that we call 2020. Calabria: The Other Italy is an excellent way to armchair travel to the South of Italy. An affectionate travelogue of Karen Haid’s time in the region, it is spread over a gap of 4 years and begins with the author living and working in Locri and Reggio Calabria.
Calabria: The Other Italy- Armchair Travel to the South
Calabria: The Other Italy
Calabria was a region pretty unknown to me. Having never been there myself, this book gave me a taste of the region along with its compassionate people, picturesque towns, craggy cliffs, un-romanticized piazze and lovely sea views (and of course the wicked ‘Ndrangheta– the mafia).
Kindness of the Locals
Similar to the two other regions of South Italy I explored in my past travels, namely Puglia and Sicily, what stood out most while reading was the kindness of the people Karen meets in the South. (Her friend Luisa seems like a true friend)
I also enjoyed reading Karen’s encounters with the locals in general and the culinary traditions that followed in almost every other chapter. From her school teachers to landlords to museum guards and complete strangers, Karen meets wonderful locals who help and offer her a delicious peek into the region’s food. (I always say that it is the people who make my trip to Italy worthwhile!) Who knew that Chanel 5 had the fragrance of a Calabrian fruit?! Locals know best 😉
With a nice lunch and good company, everything else is gravy.karen haid
Stark Cultural Differences
I also enjoyed her anecdotes on the British vs American teaching style, random shopping sprees, post office adventures and archeological descriptions of the region. Her accounts of the giardiniera, frittole, local cheese and swordfish left me wanting for more. I had no idea the Calabrese ate so much pecorino!
What was also very interesting and almost a bit bizzarre to me were the cultural differences between America and Italy. This I find myself saying because a lot of habits in India and Italy are similar. For instance, as Indians we sometimes park just about anywhere, similar to the Italians. Even asking for a discount in a small local store is pretty common for us. Same is the case in untamed Calabria but for Karen these were culture shocks coming from America.
Another example that took me by surprise was cambiare l’aria or changing the air of the room. This is another habit we Indians have- to open the door, air out the room and let the fresh air do its job. But to Karen, it was odd initially. I found myself highly amused while reading these cultural differences that made this book not only hilarious but also addictive.
One unsympathetic landlady dismissed my difficulties with, “This isn’t the North”, a weak excuse that perpetuated the status quo of a stereotypical backward South.karen haid
All in all, Karen Haid’s well written account of living in Calabria flows seamlessly and shows her love for culture. This book on Calabria is a wealth of information for anyone wanting to travel there. I salute her grit and determination to study the Italian language. There’s so much one can absorb about the region from this book that a list of towns to see and explore will be ready when you finish reading. I, for one, am pretty sure that if not for Lorci, I will certainly make it to the cities of Reggio Calabria and Scilla one of these summers. For now, I thank Karen Haid for this stimulating adventure to Southern Italy!
By the way, Karen Haid’s new book on another lesser know Southern Italian region is out. Check it out here!
There wasn’t a subject Calabrians couldn’t express in terms of food.karen haid